McCalla residents are upset that Norfolk Southern might be planning to build an intermodal facility in their area. nohub4mccalla
Estimates are that the facility could spur job growth to the tune of 8,000 jobs, which are sorely needed in Western Jefferson County where the unemployment rate is approaching 30%.
While no one wants industrial facilities in their backyards, let's look at this objectively.
The facility would be on land near the Jefferson Metropolitan McCalla Park, where there is lots of warehouse space and other sites for development. One might expect an intermodal facility to locate there. And it is close to I-20 with an exit already in place. Here's a GoogleEarth shot. The yellow outline roughly shows the area of interest, between McAshan Drive and McAdory Elementary School, and between the railroad and Eastern Valley Road. Of course the facility would not take all of that space. Between the yellow line and 4th Avenue (Old Tuscaloosa Highway) is mostly land belonging to the Jefferson Metropolitan McCalla Park. I-20 is just northwest of the area. The elementary school is down at the lower southwest part of the area.
What is an intermodal facility anyway? Well, it's not a rail yard, in the traditional sense. Intermodal shipping is generally recognized as the future of shipping, because of its efficiency. Cargo is not handled directly, and security is improved, damages and losses are reduced, freight is transported faster, and pollution is reduced. The facility will move cargo from truck to train and vice versa, and long distance shipping will be done via train rather than truck.
This facility could remove as many as 300,000 trucks (and their fumes) from Alabama's interstates.
Details of Norfolk Southern's plans have not been released, so there is a lot of speculation about what the facility might be. And speculation often uses fear to make its point. The information I have seen contains misleading assertions. But I am sure the railroad people will address those concerns when they meet with the neighborhood. Their spokesperson (Rudy Husband) has said that they reach out to neighborhoods close to their sites. But when, because apparently they haven't yet.
"At the appropriate time, we will meet with concerned residents about the terminal and try to answer all of their questions," he said Tuesday.
"We have participated in public meetings to respond to concerns residents may have about the construction and operation of our intermodal facilities." (at other sites)
Bessemer is desperate for jobs, and things are about to get so bad in the county (when the Jefferson County Commission runs out of money at the end of this month), so its going to be hard to convince the powers that be that this facility should not be built. In fact, some of the people fighting it are already conceding defeat, it seems, citing the power of the railroad and a scheduled announcement, they say, by Governor Riley on July 16 about the project (from their web site).
There are a lot of new businesses in the area that I am sure would like to see 8,000 additional people eating at their fast food restaurants, buying groceries on the way home, purchasing gasoline. And most of those businesses are in Bessemer, so that's tax money for our city.
Throughout history, industrial facilities have been located in poor areas and adjacent to black communities. One only has to look at North Birmingham to realize this. But those residents did not have voices that were heard by decision makers.
The McCalla residents are making their voice heard. There is a Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting tomorrow, Thursday, July 9 at 1:00 PM at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham (you would think they might meet out here, but no) where this issue will be addressed.
It seems the business community and the leaders of the community are all for this. Economic development and all. Let's see what happens.